By: Eric Thorn, Esq.
From time to time your association may be faced with the need to advocate for or against specific language in a piece of legislation and your members may be called upon to meet with legislators for that purpose. The following are some tips that we share with our clients’ members to help them be effective advocates:
Be Prepared – Have a succinct one pager that explains specifically the wording that needs to be added to or taken out of the bill and why. Time is at a premium during the legislative session and unexpected decisions and meetings arise daily. So being prepared to articulate you message quickly and succinctly, hitting the most important points, and having a one pager you can leave behind for them to review in important to have prepared ahead of the meeting.
Be Polite – If the member has to cancel or you end up meeting with their aide, be gracious and polite. Often times, if the member decides to help with your issue the aide can be as big a help as the legislator.
When I worked for the legislature, one time there was an important executive who came to meet with a newly elected member of the legislature. Upon entering the legislator’s office the executive addressed the young gentleman sitting at the legislator’s aide’s desk. The executive said, ”I’m here to see the Representative.” The young man asked, “Can I help you.” The executive said hastily that he had an appointment and needed to meet with the Representative and that he would return later. When the executive later returned, the aide’s desk was empty so the executive he went to the legislator’s office door and looking in saw the same young man he met previously was now sitting behind the Representative’s desk. At that moment he realized his mistake and that the newly elected representative that he was to meet was only about 22 years old and that he had mistaken him for his legislative assistant.
The point of that story is that many legislative aides may become legislators, and in this case are the legislator. So be polite to all.
Be Patient and Flexible – During the legislative session daily schedules are quite fluid, they are constantly being revised as meetings run long or are pushed back to accommodate other unplanned but necessary meetings. So patience and flexibility is key. It is not at all uncommon to leave a meeting where the start time has been delayed and causes you now to have to rush to barely make the start time of your next scheduled meeting only to find that the legislator’s committee meeting has run long and you will have to wait 20 or more minutes. This type of situation gave birth to a phrase that many around the legislative process use to describe it, “Hurry up and wait.”
Be Persistent – Without pestering it is important to be persistent and if you are asked to come back by later you should, even if it takes two or three tries. Much the same as when you have to wait, as long as you are pleasant about it, the staff and legislator will respect your effort and recognize it as a sign that your issue is important to you.
Several of our clients have found that they have legislative issues from time to time. Often there are also larger and more well-financed entities involved. But thanks to our established grass roots presence and our consistent and coordinated grass roots advocacy, they have generally been effective in protecting their interests and have fared very well.
For more information about grassroots lobbying, check out the entire article at HERE.